WASHINGTON – The Trump administration's plan to provide every nursing home with a fast COVID-19 testing machine comes with an asterisk: The government won't supply enough test kits to check staff and residents beyond an initial couple of rounds.
A program that sounded like a game changer when it was announced last month at the White House is now prompting concerns that it could turn into another unfulfilled promise for nursing homes, whose residents and staff represent a tiny share of the U.S. population but account for as many as 4 in 10 coronavirus deaths, according to some estimates.
“I think the biggest fear is that the instruments may be delivered but it won't do any good, if you don't have the test kits,” said George Linial, president of LeadingAge of Texas, a branch of a national group representing nonprofit nursing homes and other providers of elder care.
The weekly cost of testing employees could range from more than $19,000 to nearly $38,000, according to estimates by the national organization. LeadingAge is urging the administration to set up a nationwide testing program to take over from the current patchwork of state and local arrangements.
The Trump administration responds that nursing homes could cover the cost of ongoing testing from a $5 billion pot provided by Congress, and allocated to the facilities by the White House.
Adm. Brett Giroir, the Health and Human Services department's “testing czar,” recently told reporters that the government would only supply enough kits to test residents once and staff twice. But Giroir said officials have made arrangements with the manufacturers so nursing homes can order their own tests, for much less than they are currently spending.
Giroir acknowledged that the administration's effort to provide at least one fast-testing machine to each of the nation's 15,400 nursing homes is a work in progress, but said it's a top priority nonetheless.
“This is not wrapped up with a bow on it,” Giroir told reporters on a recent call. “We (are) doing this as aggressively as possible.”